Hanukkah’s Forgotten Heroine

Examining the literary history of Hanukkah, Jack Zaientz notes that, when compared to Passover or Purim, it inspired relatively little in the way of midrashic embellishments. The one exception may be the story of Judith and Holofernes—which like, the Hanukkah story itself, comes from an ancient Jewish work that the rabbis excluded from the canon. According to the popular medieval rabbinic compilation known as Kol Bo, it was this story that explained the now-defunct custom of eating cheese on Hanukkah:

It’s not clear why Judith became so beloved to medieval Jews, but the apocryphal protagonist of the book of Judith was Hanukkah’s answer to Purim’s Queen Esther. Dozens of retellings of her story, including the pro-cheese Kol Bo version, were written, distributed, and read in some European synagogues. Judith, following the model of many biblical heroines, was pious, brave, clever, and decisive. When her community of Bethulia considered surrendering to the harsh Assyrian general Holofernes, Judith acted. She prayed, bathed, dressed, and headed out into Holofernes’s camp and into his tent, carrying cheese and wine. And there, under a purple and gold netting that dripped with emeralds, he lay waiting, powerful in his opulence.

After tricking Holofernes into falling asleep drunk on his beautiful bed, the pious seductress cut off his head with his own sword and returned home with the prize wrapped in opulent netting. With trickery, fierceness, and a bit of God’s help, Judith spurred her community into action. The Jews were saved, and peace was restored. But Judith’s story has faded from view. For all the Purim shpils filled with costumed Esthers that I’ve attended, I have never heard [the story read in synagogue], either in its original form or in its medieval rewrite.

The cheese fritters once eaten in celebration of Judith’s courage are, in fact, the culinary ancestors of the latter-day latke.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Apocrypha, Hanukkah, Medieval Jewry

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship